Unified Sports® are Special Olympics training and competition programs developed by Special Olympics in which approximately equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes and peers without intellectual disabilities (Partners) participate together on sports teams for training and competition against other Unified Sports teams. All participants (Special Olympics Athletes and Partners) on a team should be of similar age and ability, although this may be modified for less physically interactive sports such as Bocce and Bowling. All athletes in this program need to have the necessary skill level to participate in the sport.
Unified Sports® is a unique and influential program because it:
- Expands sports opportunities for athletes seeking new challenges.
- Dramatically increases inclusion in the schools and community.
- Allows athletes to develop sports skills and prepares them for participation in other community sports - and at a faster rate.
- Offers a positive foundation for activity between special education and general education students, family members, and adult athletes and volunteers.
Teams are constructed in such a way as to provide training and competition opportunities that meaningfully challenge and involve all athletes. These opportunities often lead to improved sport skills, higher self-esteem, equal status with peers, and new friendships.
Special Olympics Hawaii currently offers Unified® opportunities in the following sports:
- Bocce - One athlete and one Special Partner on a doubles team.
- Bowling - Two athletes and two Special Partners on a team.
- 5-a-side Soccer - Three athletes and two Special Partners on the field.
- Softball - Five athletes and five Special Partners on the field.
- Track and Field – 2 athletes and 2 Special Partners on a relay team.
Sports such as Softball and Soccer should also include an equally proportionate number of athletes and Special Partners as substitutes.
Over 440 athletes with and without intellectual disabilities participate in Unified Sports in Hawaii. All Special Partners must sign a Special Partner Release form.
The Unified Coach
The most important person to the success of a Unified Sports® team is the COACH.
An effective and successful coach is not simply one who helps a team win. Equally important is his or her contribution to teaching, improving and applying sports skills, building team spirit, exhibiting sportsmanship on and off the field, and helping to instill positive values in all members of the team. The coach also plays the critical role of carefully selecting athletes who are similar in age and ability. The coach must ensure that Special Partners are not of the caliber where they will dominate play. The coach also must ensure that team rules, including attendance at practice, apply to all players.
Download a copy of the Unified Sports Handbook.